I figure I’m much tool old to bother with New Year’s resolutions. I’ve learned my lesson. So many of their broken bits trail along behind me now, all well-intentioned but doomed to failure. We all strive and wish and work for our own vision of wholeness, however right or wrong that vision may be, and yet we will always be broken. That brokenness, I think, is half of what it means to be human. To try and mend that brokenness nonetheless—to stare ahead into some yet unformed tomorrow and see ourselves becoming the people we are meant to be—that is the other half.
At twelve and on the cusp of thirteen, my daughter suffers no such constraints of worldly wisdom. She not only embraces the concept of resolutions, she devoted much of her Christmas vacation to them. She filled pages upon pages of the small black notebook she carries with wondrous ideas of self-improvement. I cautioned her to narrow things down a bit, cut five pages down to one and then whittle things even further, to a single focus. After much deliberation and crossing out, she announced to me on New Year’s Day her goal for the coming year:
To have a middle finger like mine.
My first thought—God forgive me—was that she meant something along the lines of the lewd gesture to which we are all familiar. Not so. She took my hand and stretched it out, showing me the hump of hard skin just inside the first knuckle of the middle finger on my right hand. She pressed it, then smiled and said, “Feels like a marble. I want one.”
“Doesn’t look too good,” I told her. “Which doesn’t really matter with me, since I’m a guy. Guys tend to think the rougher their hands are, the better. Means they’re doing stuff.”
“I want one,” she said again. “I want to do stuff. Think that’s fine?”
“I think that’s very fine.”
She sat down beside me. A worn nub of a pencil appeared from one of her pockets. That black notebook of hers came out of the other. She opened to a page near the middle and took the pencil in her hand, placing her forefinger along the barrel and wrapping her middle finger around it just so.
I asked, “What are you scribbling?”
“I don’t know. Just words. Sometimes I don’t know what’s gonna come out until it does. Is that bad?”
“Nope,” I said. “I think that’s the best.”
She wrote for twenty minutes maybe, working on those words she didn’t know, working on that writer’s bump she wants on her middle finger. I told her it would take time. Lots of time and lots of scribbling. My daughter doesn’t care.
She says she has stories to tell and everyone does, and if we keep those stories locked up inside us they’ll die and maybe an important part of our hearts will die right along with them. She’s a smart one, my daughter, and wise.
I only told her some of what that hard hump of skin on my finger means. Time and practice, yes, but there is also more and harder. Because if she really wants to tell her stories, my daughter will find the going rough. There is no journey in this life fraught with more peril than the journey inside ourselves, no land more arduous and unexplored, and we cannot ever hope to venture there and return unscathed. Every writer bears ugly scars, just as every person does. The hump on my finger is merely the one most visible.